1949: Sandwich (Styrofoam core) Boards
In 1949, a fairly famous photograph was shot of Simmons streaking across an outstanding wave at Malibu. "He was riding a foam core, veneer laminated, dual fin concave," wrote his friend John Elwell. "The picture is historic for the reasons of his early position and increased angle across the wave. His wake is long and flat, indicating great power and speed for slow Malibu."
Elwell says Simmons had started messing around with styrofoam, a new material at that time, back in 1947. Foam had been used during World War II, molded into fuselage radar domes. Simmons located the raw chemical sources from a government or corporate agency, then went about building a cement mold in the ground. With this, he blew his own foam to make "styrofoam core sandwich boards," using a plywood lid topped by five large rocks. Elwell recalls seeing these blanks, in 1950, at the lifeguard station at Imperial Beach. The mold still exists by a barn on his late uncle and aunt's ranch in Norwalk. He did a lot of research and development there, keeping tools and utilizing a large work space.
Joe Quigg confirmed that it was 1949 when Matt Kivlin began talking to Simmons about the idea of making lighter, hollow plywood rescue boards. "Simmons thought that was interesting, but instead of simply making the boards hollow he began sandwiching styrofoam between plywood and glassing the whole thing over. He had gotten some samples of styrofoam after the war, and had always dreamed of making a board with styrofoam." The drawback with styrofoam, however, was that it would dissolve once catalyzed resin was poured onto it, so the two together turned out to be impractical. By sandwiching styrofoam in between plywood, however, Simmons made it viable. "The first couple of boards of this type," wrote Elwell, "had 50/50 rail lines, but by '49 he had them down to 60/40 and as low as 80/20. The tails were so thin as to be fragile."
Joe Quigg was still in the Islands when Simmons wrote saying that he had built his first light board in the 25 pound range. "He had never built anything like this before and that was late 1949," wrote Nat Young. "Simmons had had fibreglass and resins for three years but did not choose to use these materials for their lightness but only as protection around the nose of his redwood boards." Simmons "was familiar with a light fibreglass cloth which gave him the possibility of making lighter boards, but he didn't use it until 1949. Ironically Simmons delayed using the cloth because he believed that heavier boards were faster and he fastidiously stuck to this idea."
Bob Simmons, like Tom Blake before him, had began thinking that heavier boards would work better, but like Blake, he later spent much of his design and development time aimed at lightening his boards.
The first Simmons-made Sandwich Boards were simply sealed plywood over a styrofoam core. Later, he added light and shapable balsa rails to streamline the shape.
"The lifeguards, unfortunately, never would buy them, but the surfers -- Simmons' followers -- thought they were neat and started buying them," recalled Quigg. Demand for Simmons boards increased. He sold about 100 in the Summer of 1949 alone -- a record at that time.
To satisfy demand, Simmons set up a surf shop in Santa Monica. "In those first days," said Quigg, "Simmons would glue the plywood, styrofoam and balsa parts together, then Matt (Kivlin) would shape the balsa rails and glass them over." Simmons' new board-building business became too big for he and Kivlin to handle alone, so they asked Joe Quigg to return from Hawaii to give them a hand. Quigg came back and, while Simmons maintained his original Santa Monica shop, Quigg and Kivlin organized a separate glassing and finishing shop to support Simmons' operation. "Matt and I rented a shop space up the same road from Simmons' shop," said Quigg, "and it was there that we did all the finishing work. At that time, Simmons had lots of orders. We did maybe a hundred boards."
Greg Noll tells a little story of this period. "One day, I ditched school and talked Simmons into taking me with him to Salt Creek. He didn't like kids any more than he liked adults, but I also rode one of his boards, so he tolerated me. He'd go through long periods of silence, then he'd start quizzing me. 'Why are you going to school? What are you going to do with your education? Why don't you get out and do something with your life?' He was provocative and he was smart. A real individual." - excerpt from A Definitive History of Surfing's Culture and Heroes by Malcom Gault-Williams from legendary surfers.com